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Household Chemicals Linked to Arthritis in Women

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The team found "significant associations" between osteoarthritis incidence and exposure to PFOA or PFOS among women but not men.

Women exposed to the highest levels of either chemical seemed to face up to nearly double the risk for developing osteoarthritis, compared to women exposed to the lowest levels.

The osteoarthritis-PFC connection also appeared to be stronger among younger women (between 20 and 49) than among older women (between 50 and 84). But the team said more follow-up research is needed to confirm the observation.

While the biological reason behind the potential connection remains unclear, the team suggested that the chemicals may have a particularly profound impact on hormonal balances for women.

"Our hormone systems are incredibly delicate and can be thrown off by tiny doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals," Uhl said. "And processes like inflammation and cartilage repair are associated with our hormones, and are also associated with osteoarthritis."

Whatever the culprit, Uhl cautioned that the problem is likely to persist for years to come despite a safety-driven downward trend in global PFOA/PFOS use.

"Once they get into the environment they just don't go away," she noted. "In people, they last years. So even if we were to reduce the use of these chemicals right away, they're still going to be around and in our bodies for a long time," she explained.

"Not being exposed is not an option, which is frustrating," Uhl added. "But as consumers, I would say that one of the best things to do is to lead a healthy lifestyle, and get exercise and eat well. Because we're finding that those steps can reduce susceptibility to factors that are outside our control."

Commenting on the study, Dr. Joseph Guettler, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., suggested that PFC exposure should be put in context as one of a wide number of variables that can potentially drive osteoarthritis risk.

"There's genetics, weight and obesity, and previous injuries," he noted. "There are some people who are biomechanically built in a certain way that predisposes them. And then others with certain [jobs] who put a lot of wear and tear on their body," Guettler pointed out.

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